Entertaining Myself at LAS International

LAS airportI’m sitting at the airport in Las Vegas and two things have caught my attention. The first is that I can entertain myself for a while by taking pictures of people’s shoes as they walk by. The second is that the people on either side of me are both writing in journals, with pens.

The guy on my right is working in a large, unlined book, writing tidy paragraphs in blue ink – too small to read from here.

On my left is a woman writing in a smaller, lined journal. Her handwriting is full and curly, and she is close enough to spy on. Don’t hate. As a writer, peeking into people’s lives is an important part of my job. Oh, and I’m a terrible snoop. ANYWAY, she wasn’t writing anything all that exciting, just that she is “exhausted” and “got a lot of work done.”

The reason it caught my attention is not simply because I like to pry. I write in my own journal almost every day and sometimes I feel like that’s an uncommon thing. But it’s really not. For all our technology, people still like to hold a pen and paper. There is something so satisfying about writing in long hand.

I feel such a sense of kinship with these two and their journals. Makes me wish I hadn’t forgotten mine at home. I would much rather be writing in my journal than taking pictures of people’s feet. But, you know, what else am I going to do?

And why am I in the Las Vegas airport waiting for a delayed flight? I am on my way from Sandpoint, Idaho to Quito, Ecuador. I’ll forgive you if you need a minute to Google those to realize that it’s a long trip. My cousin-in-law is getting married on Saturday in Quito, so yesterday I flew with the kids to the great northwest where my dad lives with my step-mom in a lake-side condo. The kids are staying with them for the weekend.

I’m looking forward to a couple days with the hubby. I don’t even mind all the time I’m spending in airports. I’m actually getting a lot of work done (just like my fellow writer here on my left). The only bummer is that we’re not staying in Ecuador longer. We are basically turning around immediately after the wedding to get back to the kids.

Oh, looks like we may FINALLY be boarding.

Continue Reading

Old Longings and New Homes

Old longingsFor my birthday, a friend gave me a copy of “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” by Rebecca Solnit. The title seemed appropriate, as this is a friend I used to get lost with all the time. We’ve happened upon glaciers in Canada, explored the Mojave desert by moonlight, and wondered through Berkeley on mushrooms. We’re good at getting lost.

Normally, I’m not really into books that just kind of explore ideas without plot or purpose, but this one is so beautifully written that I made it all the way through, underlining several passages along the way.

In one section of the book, she talks about “strays and captives,” people who are far from home, with every intention of returning from where they’re from. She writes about the “stunning reversal” that often happens when, at some point, “they came to be at home and what they had longed for became remote, alien, unwanted.” She goes on:

For some, perhaps there was a moment when they realized that the old longings had become little more than habit and that they were not yearning to go home but had been home for some time…

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of stories and how to end them. So many stories are about people with old longings trying to find something or get somewhere, only to realize that what they really needed was right in front of them all along. It’s a satisfying ending.

The transformation of longing into recognition makes for good story because of the suffering that comes between the two. We try to get home, or go back, or find the love lost, but striving only brings suffering. When we let go and recognize that we are home, or that we have what we need, the suffering ends.

This is not true just for story either. It’s something to consider in our lives: the things we hang on to cause suffering. And maybe that’s why it rings so true in fiction.

Continue Reading

Tidying Up My Bookshelf

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpI recently finished “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I picked it up on a whim, and totally dug it. Since finishing it, I have given away two giant trash bags of stuff from my closet, and donated four grocery bags full of books to the library. And that’s only the fist two steps of five. And keep in mind, I gave away a lot of stuff before we started packing for the move. I was shocked to learn I had so much more to get rid of.

The tidying prescribed in this book starts with clothes, then books, then on to the rest of the things in your life: paper, miscellaneous stuff, and sentimental items.

I thought books would be harder to sort through, honestly. I mean, I love books. I have totally valid reasons for keeping as many as I do, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get rid of any. But, as instructed, I placed all my books in a pile in the living room, and then picked up each one to hold it and decide if it brought me joy. I was surprised by which books I kept. As it turns out, books I’m keeping to read “some day” don’t bring me any joy. I actually found that I resented those books, and even just having them around made me feel sour. So I’m donating them.

On the flip side, there were some books, like “Moby Dick” and “Jitterbug Perfume,” that I love. Just having them on my shelf makes me happy. I will probably never read them again, but it brings me joy to see them there.

Having completed those two big steps, I’m on to sorting all the paperwork in my life. I expect this will also be pretty cathartic. If you’re looking to lighten the load of stuff in your life, check this book out. It’s a quick read, and totally worth it.

Continue Reading

Celebrate Milestones

celebrate milestonesWriting a novel takes a long time. As my teacher Mark Sarvas told me once, you have to celebrate milestones along the way, because if you wait to celebrate just one final step (say, publication) you have to wait a long, long time.

So I am very happy to announce that I have finished (yet another) draft of my novel. Yay!

In truth, I wasn’t even going to blog about it, because it doesn’t feel like a very big deal. I’ve been here before. Officially, I think this is the seventh draft I’ve finished, but why bother taking classes if you aren’t going to listen to the advice that gets doled out? Tonight, we celebrate.

Another piece of oft-repeated Sarvas advice is to put your draft in a drawer and leave it there for a while so you can come back to it with a fresh eye for rewrites. I plan to follow that bit of advice as well, but not just yet. I have a few things I want to do before I put it aside. First, I am considering a new opening scene that needs to be written. Second, I want to go through, scene for scene and just make sure that I’m hitting the beats I intended to. Then, once I’m satisfied that it is actually a solid new draft, I will put it in a drawer.

I’m thinking I’ll leave it there all summer. I’m going to take the opportunity to work on my next novel. If you’ve been following along for oh, I don’t know, years, you know I hit a wall with novel number 1 a while back and took a break to outline novel number 2 – a story that’s been gaining steam in my head since way back before I was even a writer. It’s the story that made me want to be a writer. I am very excited to get back to working on it.

Doughnut anyone?

Continue Reading

Goodbye UCLA

UCLA extension writing groupThis evening is my last UCLA Extension class for the foreseeable future. Over the past six months, I’ve taken two extension courses, Novel IV and Novel V, with Mark Sarvas, and they have both been great classes.

I have mixed feelings about being done. Sarvas is offering a revisions class over the summer, but I didn’t sign up. I would have to miss more than a couple sessions, due to travel for weddings and whatnot, and more than that, I just felt I needed a break.

Homework takes up a lot of time, and making it across town to campus once a week takes commitment. With the kids off school, my schedule isn’t going to get any easier. My biggest challenge over the next three months is going to be finding time to write at all, let alone read and give feedback on the writing of others.

Still, these UCLA Extension classes have been a real touchstone for me. It’s been good to have a group of writers to get together with once a week. As you know, my writing group isn’t what it used to be (more on that soon, as promised), and landing in a new town has left me without an immediate group of creative types to share ideas with.

I think that’s where I need to focus my efforts. I am coming up on the end of a new draft of my novel, and I want to find a group of writers on the east side (preferably in La Canada) to work with. It might be time to bite the bullet and try meetup.com. I suppose it couldn’t hurt.

Continue Reading

Automating Posts Without Being an Asshole

hootsuite automating postsThere are a lot of tools out there to help you be more consistent with social media by automating posts. If you’re looking for options, you need only type “social media scheduling” into Google. Sadly, it seems that a lot of people (and companies) are using these tools to bombard people.

If social media is like a cocktail party with many discussions going on, scheduling app abusers are like the asshole who barges into a conversation and starts talking about himself. Don’t be that guy.

I will admit to using schedulers. I’ve used a few different ones, and always come back to Hootsuite. For the money, I’ve found it to be the best option out there. The main benefit is consistency. I schedule posts for myself and for clients in Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

The goal in using a scheduling app should be to stay in touch with your online community while not alienating followers.

Here’s how I find the balance:

  1. Just because you can schedule a post for every five minute interval, doesn’t mean you should. Constant posting is a dead giveaway that a robot is doing your posting for you. Try to schedule posts to match the frequency with which you post when you’re having a spot-on social media day. For me that’s two or three times a day tops. (Unless I’m at a conference, in which case I tweet a lot more, but that’s a topic for another post.)
  2. Set up your phone to alert you when someone shares or comments on something you posted. For instance, if I schedule a post asking what people are planning to read this summer, then don’t respond for a week because I’m not paying attention, I kind of look like an asshole. So I set up my phone preferences to alert me when someone responds to my posts. When I get the alert I open my social media account and respond.
  3. Think of automating posts as a backup. For instance, I schedule a post or two a day for Twitter because I know I often get busy and forget to tweet. But just as often, I don’t forget. When I remember to, I tweet in real time, but if I do get swamped, I don’t have to stress because I know a tweet or two will go out on my behalf.
  4. Don’t schedule retweets to go live a week later. Social media, and Twitter in particular, moves fast. You can retweet hours, maybe even a day later, but retweeting content a week later screams robot and makes you look like an asshole.
  5. Make conversation. You can’t do this until you’re set up to do number 2, but it’s important. You can’t just go online and start telling everyone about what you’re selling. This goes double for the slut-bags who want to send me pictures of their punani. People will just stop following you, or worse, report you as spam (and if you’re hocking dick pics, they’re right to do so).

So there you have ’em, my top five rules for not being an asshole while making the most of the scheduling technology available to you.

Continue Reading

Reconsidering the Day Job

day jobWay back in September, I was feeling pretty low. I had just taken a day job I thought was perfect for me, and I couldn’t figure out why I was so miserable. My therapist at the time gave me an assignment. He told me to write, without thinking, my top seven jobs, putting all reality aside. I had to do it quickly, off the top of my head. I remember that first on the list was novelist, then SCUBA instructor, photo journalist, Indiana Jones, backpacking guide, and I can’t remember the last two.

The telling thing was that most of my dream jobs would take me outdoors, with people. After I described my job’s working environment – a lonely square room with no windows – my therapist told me what I already knew. I needed to quit my job.

It was then I signed up to volunteer at Descanso Gardens, with their horticulture department. I wanted was to get my hands dirty and watch things grow. We still lived in Silver Lake at that point, but we were house hunting in La Canada. As it turns out, we now live about a mile from the gardens. It’s my new favorite place.

I seriously could spend all day there. So far, my schedule only allows for me to volunteer two hours a week, but as soon as the kids are back in school for the fall I want to start going more often. Yesterday I spent two hours pinching chrysanthemums. Sounds kinda dirty, doesn’t it? To get the plants to bloom with lots of big flowers later in the year, you have to carefully pinch off new growth. Everywhere you pinch off a stem bud, two new stems will grow in. I fucking love nature.

Anyhow, the whole experience has me seriously rethinking my day job. Right now I’m doing freelance website development and social media marketing consulting. I like the work, and my clients are pretty awesome, but working online is nothing like working out in the garden.

It’s the kind of work I would continue to do, even if my novel sold for millions of dollars and I never had to work again. That’s a far cry from where I was last fall.

Continue Reading

My Running Coach and Learning to Run All Over Again

running coachI met with Steve, the running coach, on Friday. You wouldn’t think that two hours spent learning to do something that you already do on a regular basis could fly by, but they did.

Basically, I am learning to run all over again. The method of running that Steve the running coach teaches is called Chi Running. It’s based in the principals of T’ai Chi, which I’ve actually never done, but the way Steve explained it, it teaches you to run while being mindful of your center of balance.

You lean forward, so that your center of gravity falls right over where your feet land. Then you focus on landing on your whole foot, and kicking back. It sounds like a subtle difference, but it actually takes a ton of concentration to maintain. Before we met Steve told me: “you’ll start a white belt and finish the session as a white belt.” He was right.

The good news is I’m running again and my knees are not screaming at me. The bad news, I feel like I’m back at square one. This new form uses different muscles, so all that endurance I built up for the half marathon isn’t helping me much. I’m going to have to bust my ass to get my distance back before the full marathon in August.

The other thing that has given me pause is the metronome. The way you hold your body when running like this lends itself to lots of small steps, and it is taught with a metronome. Literally. I now run with a metronome clicking in my ear. I’m at 170 steps per minute and will work up to 180 by race day.

While this helps me keep my pace up, it does not allow me to listen to my audio books while I run, which frankly might be a deal breaker. I love, love, love listening to stories as I run.

So I’m going to do another week with the metronome, to get a feel for it, and then I’m going to switch back to my books. Hopefully I can keep a focus on my form, while still listening to a story. If not, I will be forced to seriously reassess.

Continue Reading

After The Half Marathon

half marathon
As you know, I recently ran my first half marathon.

Turns out, I’m actually pretty good at distance running. I enjoy it. In fact, I don’t really start to enjoy running until about the third mile. If someone had told me, back in high school, when they made us run that terrible ten-minute mile bullshit, that I would always hate the first mile, but love the eighth, I would have thought they were crazy.

And yet, here I am.

The thing is, I think I’m doing it wrong. Maybe it’s my form, or maybe I need to cross-train to build up my support muscles or something. All I know is that right around mile 13 my knees started hurting. I kept running until the finish line, but two days after the half marathon I could barely walk, my knees hurt so bad. They’re still hurting ten days after the race.

This is simply unacceptable. I already signed up for a full marathon in August, which I fully intend to run, so I made an appointment with a running coach. It’s a two-hour thing on Friday, and it’s $150, which hurts a little all on its own, but I’m justifying it with the fact that I would spend more than that on a gym membership (over the next three months), so it balances out. Running is free.

In fact, by that logic, I’ve already saved that much by running the neighborhood instead of joining a gym.

Anyhow, the only way I can possibly tie this to my writing is that I haven’t had any time to listen to my books on tape over the last ten days. Usually I listen while I run (which is pretty much the perfect way to spend an hour or three).

I can’t wait to get back out there.

Continue Reading